A gunman killed at least two people and seriously injured another 11 near the famed Christmas market in the French city of Strasbourg on Tuesday before fleeing the scene, authorities said.
Police launched a manhunt after the killer opened fire late Tuesday sending crowds of evening shoppers fleeing for safety.
Soldiers patrolling the area as part of regular anti-terror operations exchanged fire with the gunman and injured him, but could not stop him escaping the scene, security sources said.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the shooter had been identified and had a criminal background.
“We heard several shots, three perhaps, and we saw people running,” one witness told AFP afterwards, asking not to be named.
“One of them fell down, I don’t know whether it was because she was tripped up or if she was hit,” the witness said.
The Christmas market in Strasbourg is an annual tourist attraction that draws hundreds of thousands of people.
Security has been stepped up in recent years after a series of attacks in France by Islamist gunmen since 2015 and the Strasbourg market was considered a possible target.
Special anti-terror army units have been deployed in Strasbourg and soldiers and armed police are regularly seen patrolling among the 300 wooden chalets of the market.
Three years after groups of jihadists gunned down and blew up 130 people in Paris on November 13, 2015, French counter-terror officials say their focus has shifted.
Rather than coordinated attacks, their main concern is attacks by “lone wolves” — self-radicalised individuals acting without links to terror groups such as Islamic State.